Medical practitioners today are confronted with an unprecedented degree of complex challenges and expectations. At the same time, their conduct and services are placed under close scrutiny by an increasingly critical and demanding public. On one hand, they are expected to be empathic communicators armed with good bedside manners and sensitivity to the needs and rights of their patients. In multi-ethnic Singapore, they also have to be cognizant of religious and cultural influence in patient’s decision-making, and negotiate with great sensitivity. Yet on the other hand, they have to be effective stewards of healthcare resources, in particular those in public healthcare institutions, and be capable of articulating concepts of distributive justice to patients who may feel otherwise. An analysis of General Medical Council (GMC) documents regarding regulation and fitness to practice from 1963 to 2005 demonstrated a shift over the period of time from a doctor-centred regulatory discourse to a patient-centred health improvement agenda. To add to these, the infiltration of commercial values and consumer-driven practices into the healthcare delivery system threaten to undermine patient trust and confidence. Yet, society expects doctors, especially those in private practice, to adopt a business mentality without losing their professional virtues. Besieged by these challenges, doctors begin to question the meaning and relevance of medical professionalism, and to wonder if values and aspirations articulated in their professional code are still pertinent in this rapidly changing world.
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